The news coming out of Venezuela lately has been of a country racked by a series of scandals; these include: the temporary closure of certain television channels for not showing presidential speeches—this was done because these stations had over thirty-percent Venezuelan content and the communications law states that those stations must show the speeches or face sanction, ergo, it fit well within Hayek’s notion of a just law, as it apply to all equally—; blackouts are becoming more common as a severe drought is starting to undermine the state’s capacity to deliver power and water; Venezuela is still one of the only states in Latin America that is still in recession; the emergence of a dual exchange rate to incentivize exports and industrialization, and dis-incentivize imports—with the exception of certain vital imports, i.e., food, however, this is expected to lead to even higher levels of inflation; etc. With all of this, many ‘business-analysts’ are suggesting that Venezuela is a black hole from which capital does not return, thus, investment should not be going in. This logic is exemplified by the proceeding quote from Mike Percy, Dean of the Business School at the University of Alberta (neoliberal):
"In Venezuela, you can put (money) in, but the odds are, you're not getting it back" he said.*
However, recently ENI S.A., a multinational petroleum company from Italy, and PDVSA, the national oil company (NOC) of Venezuela, intends to invest in $18 billion to develop oil from the world’s biggest reserve of oil, the Orinoco Belt. As the article from Mercopress elucidates:
The Eni/PDVSA agreement involves 18 billion US dollars worth of projects to pump and refine oil from the Orinoco Belt in central Venezuela. The venture expects to pump 240,000 barrels a day after spending 8.3 billion USD to develop the Junin 5 block... Eni also plans to build a 9.3 billion USD, 350,000 barrel-a- day refinery to convert crude oil from the existing Petromonagas project in the Orinoco into higher-value products. Italy’s Eni will hold 40% of the venture and PDVSA the rest.
Never-mind the investments that are planned from Petrobras from Brazil, Gazprom from Russia—“A preliminary joint venture deal on the Junin 6 block was signed in September between state-run Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, and a consortium of Russian oil firms, including Lukoil Holdings and Gazprom OAO...The Junin 6 block could eventually produce 450,000 barrels a day of heavy crude, and would require investment of some $30 billion, Venezuelan officials have said”**—, and CNOOC from China—“With China, Venezuela looks to develop the Junin 4 block, a $16 billion project with a potential to produce 400,000 barrels a day. The statement said Venezuela is looking to build an electricity-generating plant with China in the Orinoco to be used for refineries.”**
If, as Mr. Percy implies, investing in Venezuela is a metaphorical black hole for capital, why do major producers invest in Venezuela? On the flip side, is Chavez really anti-capitalist, why is he courting so much foreign capital? There are a lot of mixed messages coming out of Chavez. Chavez has stated that he doesn’t want to “expropriate everything”, claiming such claims are “not true.”*** However, Chavez has recently proclaimed himself to be a “Marxist”****, certainly this is ‘contradictory consciousness’ at its height, or is it?
Firstly, I do not think that Chavez is actually anti-capitalist, regardless of what he says or the Western media say. Chavez represents a new, post-1989, ersatz-radical left, one that has come to terms with capitalism—certainly with a more humane face—, but not with American ‘imperialism’. The real enemy for Chavez is not capital, the fundamental conflict is not internal to the polity or the system—as evidenced by his quote that he does not want to “expropriate everything”—, but rather it is external, the United States. Therefore, Chavez is actually playing from the rightist playbook by defining the enemy as external, an external that disrupted the natural ‘course’ of the Bolivarian revolutionary society. Yes, the United States does represent, signify capitalism, but it is not capitalism itself.
However, due to some ‘cunning of reason’, maybe—I emphasize the maybe— Chavez has no choice but to be a capitalist in order to destroy capitalism. Venezuela is not a developed country, by anyone’s account; it has an artificially high per capita income due to the rents extracted from the oil industry. Historically speaking, counter-hegemonic projects have only emerged in the developing world, e.g., Russia, China, Venezuela, etc. Thus, they have been characterized by multiple relations that Marx did not expect a future socialist society would have to face, i.e., underdevelopment, dependency, imperialism, dualistic economies, etc. Chavez is actually pursuing a policy that Soviet Russia and China wanted to or have pursued. As explained by Perry Anderson, in his recent article entitled “Two Revolutions”,
As a fully independent state, in tight command of its territory, it could be confident of its ability to control flows of alien capital by political power, much as Lenin had once hoped to do in the days of NEP; and, with a continuing grip on the strategic—financial and industrial—heights of the economy, of its ability to dominate or manipulate domestic capital.
Thus, within under-developed socialist states, they have little choice to be in favour of capitalist relations to develop their economies. However, as China now shows, this idealism of being able to ‘control capital’ without ‘becoming capital’ is a losing strategy. Indeed, the fetishism with ‘growth’ and ‘development’ may be the achilles heel of socialism. Indeed, China has become the ideal capitalist state, because it is obsessed with growth. What socialism has done historically, because it has been limited to underdeveloped countries, is actually introduce capitalism with a strong-centralized state that is independent of imperialist pressures. Creating the conditions for highly successful capitalist development, but the cost is the loss of the socialist project in the meanwhile. This can be explained by Zizek on the historic failure of Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’:
What Mao did was to deprive the transgression of its ritualized, ludic character by taking it seriously: revolution is not just a temporary safety valve, a carnivalesque explosion destined to be followed by a process of sobering up. His problem was precisely the absence of the "negation of the negation," the failure of the attempts to transpose revolutionary negativity into a truly new positive order: all temporary stabilizations of the revolution amounted to just so many restorations of the old order, so that the only way to keep the revolution alive was the "spurious infinity" of endlessly repeated negation which reached its apex in the Great Cultural Revolution.
This lack of a ‘positive order’, or the creation of a new hegemony and new social relations that allowed the rise of capitalism and its logics to reemerge, or arguably speaking, to merely reassert itself after a revolutionary lull. The project in Venezuela is twelve years old, we must see where it goes; indeed, if it even survives. In my opinion, it is going in the direction of Chinese-styled developmentalism, which to much of the modern left is the ‘best’ they can hope for.